You must have read many rags to riches stories. How about we told you another one? While you are reading this story, Anita Devi must be busy, either working on her mushroom farms or checking the account books of her own business firm, “Madhopur Farmer’s Producers Company”. Having cut out a niche for herself and many other women in her neighbouring villages, she has ensured a steady income for her family.
But it wasn’t always like this. Just few years back, poverty stricken Anita Devi was looking for ways to overcome her precarious living standards. Poverty and desperation to earn money led Anita Devi to a unique solution: fungus.
She started her journey to grow mushrooms in 2010. “When I was desperate to earn something, I approached Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Harnaut in Nalanda. The officials advised me to grow mushrooms.” says Anita. A graduate in home science, she was trained in growing mushrooms at Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agriculture University in Pusa, Samastipur district, and G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Uttarakhand. She also learnt about mushroom seed production. The scenario was difficult and unfriendly in the beginning. It was a totally new concept in her village.
Filled with determination and zeal to earn money she embarked upon her mushroom journey with all her heart and soul. But as they say, “Nothing comes easy”, she also had to face a fare share of road blocks before reaching to the milestone.
On being asked about the difficulties that she had to face, Anita says, “Some co-villagers, particularly women, used to taunt me for growing Gobar Chatta, as wild mushroom is known locally. They hardly missed an opportunity to embarrass me by telling that it will not help me to change my life.” People’s taunt was not the only difficulty she had to face. Mushroom is not something that could be grown easily. Anita says, “September to March is the best season here for cultivation of mushroom. We are growing mushrooms during the period without any air-conditioning facility because it is possible during comfortable weather only.”
Apart from these initial hiccups, there arose a major problem at the peak of success as well. However, that problem could be best described as “a blessing in disguise”. Remembering those days Anita Devi smiles a bit and says’ “When I started growing mushrooms, I used to purchase 20 kg of seed from Rajendra Agriculture University because seed was not available locally. When dozens of women joined me to grow mushroom and demand for seed increased manifold, I requested the university to provide me 300 kg of seed. It refused on the ground that so much seed is not available for one buyer. So I decided to set up a mushroom seed production facility at Anantpur,” “National Horticulture Mission has financially helped me by providing nearly Rs 15 lakh under subsidy scheme to set up mushroom seed production facility two years ago”.
“The fruit of success tastes sweet only if you have worked hard enough for that success.” This saying fits truly in Anita Devi’s story. Having been through the struggles, she is now reaping the fruits of success. Describing the success, she says, “Mushroom farming has not only empowered me and hundreds of other women, it has given boost to our rural economy”. “Thanks to mushroom growing, women in villages are now earning members, and are no longer dependent on their husbands and family.”
Anita’s move to grow mushrooms has given an opportunity for her husband Sanjay Kumar, who was struggling to earn a livelihood. With respectable profits from mushroom farming, Anita’s husband has opened a garment shop in nearby Madhopur bazaar. Her two sons are pursuing graduation in horticulture and her only daughter is pursuing a B.Ed program.
Her nondescript village Anantpur has been declared a “Mushroom Village” in 2012 by a team of state agriculture department comprising the principal secretary, district administration, and experts from agriculture universities. Her success in popularizing mushroom cultivation and close association with mushroom is such that local people in Nalanda call her Mushroom Mahila (mushroom woman).
THE WAY FORWARD:
She is now well-known for motivating, inspiring and engaging a large number of women to grow mushrooms in her native village Anantpur and neighbouring villages under Chandi block in Nalanda district. There are nearly 250 women currently attached with her company. These women have been linked to SHGs formed under Jeevika, the Bihar government’s rural livelihood program.
Anita and other women are mainly growing Oyster and Milky White mushrooms because of the ease in growing them. Oyster mushrooms grow on almost all types of agricultural wastes, which are locally available free of cost.
On an average, the daily production of oyster mushroom from her centre is around 15 kg to 20 kg, which is sold at Rs 80 to wholesalers and Rs 120 to retailers. Her monthly income is more than Rs 25,000 from mushroom farming.
Buoyed by her success, Anita Devi has planned expansion of the business, “In last few years, I have visited several villages in Nalanda and formed self-help groups (SHGs) of women. I have targeted to double the number of women. If things move as per planning, I will fulfil the target of including 500 women to grow mushrooms by next year.”
Women have successfully changed their status from poverty-stricken to prosperous thanks to mushroom and Anita Devi’s efforts. With more innovations and initiatives like these in future, we hope that Bihar would grow and become a leader on the road to success and prosperity.
This article first appeared on Village Square.